Pets and Your Health: 5 Ways Pets Can Make a Difference

elderly woman with dog

Most devoted pet owners know that pets make life better. They provide companionship, play, and love. But scientists have recently turned their attention to the science of pet ownership, and are discovering that the benefits of pet ownership go much deeper than fun and affection. Pets offer a sense of connection with others, the opportunity to pursue new friendships, and a shot at more happiness. Pets and your health are truly related, and here’s how:

  1. An Active Mind and Body

    No one denies that pets can be challenging. From daily training sessions to struggling to find the best dog bed crate, pets keep their owner’s minds active. People who experience daily intellectual challenges are less likely to suffer from depression, and there’s some evidence that an active mind can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This is why pets are increasingly being used as visitors in nursing homes and hospitals.

    Keeping active is also a benefit in its own right. Your dog may provide you with the incentive you need to get up off the couch and go for a walk. Thus dog owners may experience lower blood pressure, decreased risk of obesity, and improved overall health.

  2. Increased Immunity

    Happy people have better immune systems and are less likely to develop certain illnesses. Pet ownership can improve overall life satisfaction and reduce the incidence of mental illnesses such as depression that can cause a weakened immune system. Even the simple act of petting an animal for a few minutes stimulates white blood cell production and improves circulation, greatly improving overall health.

  3. Emotional Security

    Pets provide hours of love and affection to their owners. While this can seem like a trivial benefit, it can be a matter of life and death for some people. A sense of emotional security can greatly reduce a person’s risk of developing some mental illnesses. Depressed patients who own pets suffer fewer suicidal feelings, and their sense of obligation to their pets can give them a strong incentive to work on getting better. The love that pets provide is also greatly beneficial to isolated people, particularly the elderly.

  4. Opportunities for Connection

    Pets need exercise, playtime, and friends. For people who have difficulty making friends, a pet can give them the push they need to get out and meet people. Dogs and cats are great conversation-starters, and can be powerful tools for people who suffer from loneliness, shyness, and social anxiety. Pet ownership can also help raise people’s self esteem, empowering them to reach out to others and foster and develop friendships.

    Friendship and belonging to a community are strong predictors of both emotional and physical health. Dogs greatly increase a person’s ability to and likelihood of making friends, and can therefore greatly improve their owners’ quality of life and overall health.

  5. Life-Saving Advantages

    For some people, a pet can be a true life-saver. Dogs have much stronger senses of small and hearing than people, and these sensory powers can offer several advantages to owners.

    Trained dogs can detect a seizure or panic attack before it happens, and can intervene to prevent their owner from experiencing a dangerous loss of consciousness. Therapy and guide dogs can help pull their owners out of isolation and guide them through the world. But dogs don’t have to be trained service dogs to fulfill unique functions. Your dog senses your emotions and may intervene to comfort and calm you even before you know you’re upset! Some dogs even recognize that their owners are pregnant before the pregnancy test reads positive.

Photo by jjgwarren/Flickr

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